A Student of History

March 20, 2007

The Accidental President

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 3:05 pm


A new biography of President John Tyler gets a favorable review in the Washington Times, here.  A brief sample:

No American political slogan is more remembered than one from the 1840 presidential campaign –“Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” Edward Crapol of the College of William and Mary has written “John Tyler: The Accidental President,” a fascinating and comprehensive study of half that brief team. 

Tyler of Virginia ran on a Whig ticket with an old war hero, but he was by background and inclination a Jeffersonian, limited-government, states-rights Democrat. This study shows that after he assumed the presidency (upon Harrison’s untimely death in office), Tyler became a strong president and a strong nationalist. He believed he could solve the problems of sectionalism and slavery by expanding the United States geographically. Slavery would dissipate like fish in the sea.

The publisher’s page is here.

The first vice president to become president on the death of the incumbent, John Tyler (1790-1862) was derided by critics as “His Accidency.” Yet he proved to be a bold leader who used the malleable executive system to his advantage. In this biography of the tenth President of the United States, Edward P. Crapol challenges previous depictions of Tyler as a die-hard advocate of states’ rights, limited government, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

In pursuit of his agenda, Crapol argues, Tyler exploited executive prerogatives and manipulated constitutional requirements in ways that violated his professed allegiance to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. He set precedents that his successors in the White House invoked to create an American empire and expand presidential power.

Crapol also highlights Tyler’s enduring faith in America’s national destiny and his belief that boundless territorial expansion would preserve the Union as a slaveholding republic. When Tyler, a Virginian, opted for secession and the Confederacy in 1861, he was stigmatized as America’s “traitor” president for having betrayed the republic he once led. As Crapol demonstrates, Tyler’s story anticipates the modern imperial presidency in all its power and grandeur, as well as its darker side.

Edward P. Crapol is William E. Pullen Professor of American History, Emeritus, at the College of William and Mary.  Tyler was an alum of W&M too, class of 1807.

This is incredible (if a bit trivial too):  he had, from his 2 marriages, 15 children, the youngest of whom died in 1947


1 Comment »

  1. interesting…

    Comment by abu ameerah — March 20, 2007 @ 3:07 pm | Reply

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